So I Guess I Was Wrong

I was wrong. It happens sometimes. Well actually, it happens a lot in my writing, but luckily I’m discovering how to right those wrongs. I’m learning.

Image courtesy of ningmilo

One of the things we’re supposed to do in writing is to vary sentence length. I thought I was doing so, but I was wrong. I’ve gotten several comments from agents and others about my short, choppy sentences, much to my surprise, so I decided to take a look.
First, I looked to two authors/books I really admire. Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols and JH Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go. I did my super scientific analysis of multiple pages, by counting the number of sentences that were approximately one line in length and the sentences that were less than ½ a line in length. Then I counted several pages in The Proper Way to Say Goodbye.
Imagine my surprise ( 😉 ) when I found that, huh—I had way more short sentences than them.
Echols/Trumble’s Results
1 line sentences per page: Range of 6 to 12, with average of 8.
½ line sentences per page: Range of 2 to 6, with average of 3.
Approximately 1/3 of the lines being ‘short.’
Suzi’s Results
1 line sentences per page: Range of 7 to 17, with average of 12.
½ line sentences per page: Range of 4 to 11, with average of 8.
Approximately 2/3 of the lines being ‘short.’
My next analysis was made by Word and their neat feature which counts average words per sentence. According to many sources on the web, here are the general guidelines.
Average words per sentence
< 14 is too many short sentences 14 to 22 is where you want to be > 22 is getting too wordy
Guess, where I came in? Bet you won’t.
Eight. Yes, 8. And < 14 is supposedly too short. Now, I understand some of that is dialogue, which I consider different than narrative, but even so, it's too short.   Varying sentence length is important because when too many sentences are short, the writing might be choppy and ideas may be hard to follow. Too many long sentences might mean there's too much detail, also making it hard to follow.   So I guess I'm going to be doing some revisions.   How about you, have you ever analyzed your sentence lengths?  

Image courtesy of ningmilo

8 Responses

  1. Interesting. I’ve never thought about it, but then no one’s ever mentioned it in regards to my writing, either. I do notice when reading others’ work if sentences tend to run long (Faulkner), though. Not sure I’ve come across much of anything with many short sentences. Aside from maybe my kids’ books?

  2. Wow! I can see why shorter sentences might make it feel staccato and choppy. But I guess the REAL reason for not wanting mostly short sentences is that short sentences have power stored in their brevity. They punch.

    And you don’t want to spend the whole time punching your audience.

    The shorter sentences do their job best when they stand out. That’s probably why you’re hearing that. So I guess connecting related ideas in longer sentences is what you’ll end up having to do so your most powerful short sentences will stand out.

    I’m sure I tend toward longer sentences, but I’ve never analyzed it. It’s pretty interesting that several publishing industry professionals zoomed in on that one aspect of your writing and told you what to fix. Good luck massaging your sentences!

  3. I love that you did a statistical analysis. That’s the sort of thing I love to do. However, I haven’t ever done this myself. I was told once that I had too many long sentences – there was nothing wrong with them individually (I was told they give my writing a good flow), but I needed to add more tension in the tense scenes.

    I guess whatever length your sentences are, they lose impact if there are too many the same.

  4. Rachel Schieffelbein

    Not really, not like this anyway. At a conference once a writer talked about how shorter sentences increase the pace in action scenes, so I did go through the zombie book at one point and try to shorten sentences where the pace should be fast. But I haven’t thought much about it since, to be honest.

Comments are closed.